Welcome rest? No. 16 Notre Dame preps for tough stretch
By CLAIRE KRAMER
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Action items have defined Notre Dame's approach in 2017.
Coach Brian Kelly changed the mindset for the 16th-ranked Fighting Irish. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush is slipping and sliding around defenses to compensate for the lack of a passing game, and it's working so far. Josh Adams carries the run game. The Irish are working, and climbing and leaping and grinding, too. But this week, they were forced to add patience to the mix.
Since a one-point loss to Georgia in Week 2, the Irish (5-1) have won four games comfortably, beating Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (Ohio) and North Carolina by an average score of 43-16. Here come the Irish? Here comes momentum?
Here comes a speed bump in the form of the bye week.
Players were taking midterm exams this week, and will focus on practice next week during Notre Dame's official fall break.
"If I had my druthers, I would prefer that the bye would be on the mid-winter break schedule," Kelly said. "We have a bye this week and then next week is mid-winter break. I would prefer that our kids would get a week where they truly can get it off."
However, the Irish will benefit from extra time to get key players healthy, including Wimbush (foot). Of the next six opponents, five are ranked. No. 13 Southern California visits on Oct. 21, followed by No. 20 North Carolina State. The three-game home stand ends with Wake Forest before the season ends with No. 11 Miami, No. 25 Navy and No. 23 Stanford.
In recent years, the Irish have come out with a bang and slowly begun to let the wheels fall off the championship wagon as the season progressed. If this season is to be any different, they'll have to keep up momentum and make changing the mindset worth it.
They're playing a waiting game on their own terms, and feel as though they have some improving to do anyway.
"As an offense, I think we know we can do more," Adams said. "I don't think we're even close to being at the level we know we can be at."
The Irish will have to answer for the lack of a long passing game. Wimbush's ability to run the ball has made up for the problem, but tougher opponents are coming up. Kelly said that it falls to himself and his coaching staff to find ways to get the ball to receivers like Equanimeous St. Brown, whose performance has been unusually quiet.
How the Irish return from the bye week will define if all the changes, in mindset, personnel and coaching, were worth it.
Linebacker Nyles Morgan was simple in his summation: "We are satisfied, but we're never satisfied."
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Updated October 12, 2017